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Jay Leno to keynote White House Correspondents Dinner [updated]

White House Correspondents Association has picked this week's most unpopular stand-up comic Jay Leno be the keynote speaker at this year's White House Correspondents DInner.

An NBC rep confirmed the invitation to The TV Column.

In fairness, the association asked Leno weeks ago -- when he was just the host of a primetime show that was failing five nights a week.

But by the time he appears at the annual Washington bash, which the past few years has become a Hollywood Petting Zoo, Leno will be the guy who pushed Conan O'Brien out to become the newly returned host of NBC's "The Tonight Show." And the butt of pretty much every other talk show host's jokes for the past couple weeks.


Jay Leno, wasting no time on his Road to Late-Night Redemption, after successfully knocking off "Tonight Show" host Conan O'Brien, will make his pilgrimmage to the first of the Stations of the Cross -- Oprah Winfrey -- this coming Thursday. Oprah will say on her show today that she is flying to Los Angeles to interview Leno for her Thursday episode.)

In case you've missed the story, Leno retired from NBC's late-night show last year. But instead of spending more time with his cars, he hung around to help NBC with its Program to Margins campaign, and was given responsibility for doing the best darned 10 o'clock comedy show he could, so as to help out Conan O'Brien -- guy who had pushed him out of "The Tonight Show" gig -- by feeding Conan the biggest possible audience into the late night timeslot. That didn't go so well -- imagine!

NBC suits responded by announcing a demotion for Conan -- his "Tonight" was being moved and would, instead of starting at 11:30 p.m., start the next morning, so that they could give Jay back his old 11:35 p.m. "Tonight Show" start time. Conan refused and now Jay's got "The Tonight Show" back. And that, pookie, is how things are done in Hollywood.

Here's what Jay had to say on his soon-to-be-ex primetime show Thursday, about NBC's announcement that day that it had wrapped up a deal to show Conan the door:

"NBC and Conan O'Brien made an announcement earlier today as many of you know Conan is leaving the network. His final show airs tomorrow night.

"I have chosen to stay on the Titanic. I don't believe the iceberg is that big, the biggest ship, this ship will never sink and Kev...when it does, Kev as it's sinking you will play'll be here for us so. Apparently we'll be back on 'The Tonight Show' March first after the Olympics, so that's pretty much where we are."

By Lisa de Moraes  |  January 22, 2010; 12:59 PM ET
Categories:  TV News  
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I find it amazing that Jay Leno is considered the heavy here, that he had the "failed prime time show". At the start of his show NBC announced they would be satisfied if he maintained his 5 million viewer numbers from the Tonight Show and he did do that. Leno met expectations, hit the mark. Conan, however, was given a show that had 5.2 milion viewers consistantly, for years, and managed to drive viewership down to a consistant 2.4 million viewers. He was given 7 months to make something of the show, far longer than typical. He was given late Spring, the entire Summer, as well as the entire Fall season to make something of the time period. By various accounts Conan resisted making changes to increase viewers while Leno kept trying different things during his show to try to increase viewers. Conan even lost viewers in the prime demographic that he was supposed to attract. Conan was the failure here, not Leno, NBC recognized that basic fact and made the necessary changes. It was business decision, period.

Posted by: HarryR | January 21, 2010 11:42 PM | Report abuse

Just like the Washington Post op-ed page, Harry ignores some essential facts to advance faulty arguments.

NBC didn't fire Conan, he refused to be moved a half hour later, and they negotiated his release. Leno's show was ended because network affiliates were going to stop airing it. No such threats were ever leveled against The Tonight Show. If Conan had accepted the demotion, he would still be with NBC.

Leno let NBC force Conan out, when back in 1993 he was nearly forced out himself. He's a naked opportunist with a phony nice-guy persona.

NBC screwed this up, and Jay took advantage of the situation to continue to do a job for which he gets lots of money that he doesn't touch.

Posted by: dbruggeman | January 22, 2010 12:46 AM | Report abuse

I don't understand all the animosity toward Jay Leno. He is, and always has been, a kind and decent man; engaged in philanthropy, long-time married man, no "Hollywood scandals" to appeal to our baser instincts. People seem to be ignoring that he had a successful show, from which NBC removed him in order to appease Conan. Jay actually met NBC expectations as he worked to make a success of his new show. Meanwhile, O'Brien took the #1 show @ 11:30 and drove it into the toilet, with no sign of improvement during the 7 months he had the show. How is all this Jay's fault? Both Jay and Conan have employers who make business decisions based on the bottom line; Jay is being made a scapegoat in this situation. The vitriol & cynicism being displayed toward him is more of a reflection on the cynics than it is on Jay.

Posted by: alc4967 | January 22, 2010 1:14 AM | Report abuse

When is the correspondents dinner. Incomplete: C-.

Posted by: fusillijerry | January 22, 2010 1:15 AM | Report abuse

He's an ass. Plain and simple.

Posted by: James38 | January 22, 2010 1:41 AM | Report abuse

I thought this was supposed to be about Leno's keynote of the White House Correspondents Dinner? Like already posted by "fusillijerry" When is the correspondents dinner?

This whole "column" spends more time on the Leno/Conan/NBC thing then any mention of the White House Dinner.. But since we went this route with the column, Leno FAILED in Primetime. For some reason Leno has too much pull with NBC. When Leno does finally decide to retire, FOR GOOD, who is NBC going to put in to replace him then? If NBC was not happy with Conan's performance they will not even give Jimmy Fallon a shot at the Tonight Show. And lets be honest here, Carson Daly's late night show is a joke all together. Going to have to start from scratch when Leno finally decides to leave. I used to like Leno, after watching his old tonight show for years it really just got boring. His primetime show was never anything. Conan has always been much funnier in my opinion. NBC's loss will surely be FOX or someone else's gain come September.

Posted by: MadSpleen85 | January 22, 2010 3:09 AM | Report abuse

Conan was GIVEN a yacht - and promptly sank it with masturbating bears and other visuals inappropriate for the longstanding Tonight Show.
Leno is back where he belongs!

Posted by: angie12106 | January 22, 2010 6:26 AM | Report abuse

Conan was GIVEN a yacht - and promptly sank it with masturbating bears and other visuals inappropriate for the longstanding Tonight Show.
Leno is back where he belongs!

Posted by: angie12106 | January 22, 2010 6:26 AM | Report abuse

Conan was GIVEN a yacht - and promptly sank it with masturbating bears and other visuals inappropriate for the longstanding Tonight Show.
Leno is back where he belongs!

Posted by: angie12106 | January 22, 2010 6:27 AM | Report abuse

Jay Leno is not funny. He should have just retired and worked on his car collection, or whatever the heck he wants to do. Conan got a raw deal, and I hope that Jay fails even more at his new (old)show than he did at 10. Conan is laughing all the way to the bank, and I promise NEVER to watch the Tonight Show again. Heckuva job, Zucker! You really know how to pick a winner.

Posted by: ExceptionalTorture | January 22, 2010 9:54 AM | Report abuse

Just why is it Jay's fault that Conan couldn't make a go of The Tonight Show? Conan has been riding Jay's coattails for years and had a perfect opportunity to class up his show and minimize the "see, I'm still a frat boy" nonsense. Really, that juvenile stuff doesn't look good on a 40something millionaire Harvard graduate. If all the Defenders of Conan had actually been watching his show, this fiasco could have been avoided. Hey Conan, do some benefit shows for laid-off workers or for charity. These are serious times, so stop whining. Jay, see ya back in your rightful place at 11:35.

Posted by: dacbf | January 22, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

harryr & alc4967 are absolutely correct.

And I will add my voice to say I am left just scratching my head as to why some people, including purported "responsible journalists" have over the past weeks attempted to paint Leno as the spoiler here. The facts prove otherwise.

If there are any parties to be pillaried in connection with this fiasco, it is the NBC executives who bowed to Conan's insitence in his contract renegotiation in 2004 to force Leno out of The Tonight Show in 2009.

It seems to me that Leno has simply done everything requested of him by the network. Nothing more and nothing less.

Conan and his devotedf fans may have some beef with the network, but it hardly is Leno's doing.

Posted by: LAWPOOL | January 22, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

This article is an insult to the 5 million plus viewers who do watch Jay. I've always wished Conan well, but its not Jay's fault that NBC made this programming decision. Where were all these Conan fans before? I bet they were watching David Letterman. Remember Leno beat Letterman all these years. Some people are still bitter about that.

Posted by: martinezbd | January 22, 2010 2:31 PM | Report abuse

Jay appeals to adults and Conan appeals to immature boys. Conan has been acting like an immature boy. Let's hope he mans up and divides equally amongst himself and his staff the money that NBC gave him. He also has to man up and blame himself for poor ratings.
Most of the immature crowd is out raising hell when the tonight show is on. Conan was more suited for late, late night. If he attempts to challenge Jay and Dave, he will once again be at the bottom. If he tries to challenge Chelsea, he will also lose. Chelsea is funnier and easier to look at then Conan.

Posted by: gozafa | January 22, 2010 3:42 PM | Report abuse


Conan didn't force NBC to give him the Tonight Show. Conan was thinking about moving to a new network, but NBC didn't want him to go and compete against Leno, so they promised him the Tonight Show to keep him. That was the deal. If they wanted to keep Leno, they didn't have to promise Conan the spot and could have let him go. Would you not want to advance in your career and take opportunities as they come?

As to the drop in viewers, why would fans of the Tonight Show watch two versions of the same programming every night. NBC poisoned the later audience by doubling the content. It would be like taking over a restaurant where your investors open a new, similar restaurant right next store, and expect you not to lose business.

Posted by: pumpkinmobile | January 23, 2010 6:29 PM | Report abuse

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